Table Etiquette Basics

WORDS:: Chyka Keebaugh

PHOTOS:: Lisa Atkinson


I have not always known what fork goes where and how to set the table! It’s not something we are innately born with, but once you learn a few solid tricks it’s not something you are likely to forget!


Table etiquette is critical, sure it sometimes seems a little old fashioned but considering we are living in the age where some people think it’s OK to answer text messages at the table (hello KIDS!!) I believe that we can all do with a little brushing up on some etiquette and mannaers. Whether it be setting the perfect table for an informal luncheon or how to RSVP to a wedding properly, all these little things matter. They all reflect who we are and how we want to be perceived so why not take them seriously?  Good manners can go a long way and when you roll your eyes at me because I switch your fork placement about remember this - you only have one opportunity to make a first impression, so use it wisely!

A formal table setting really isn't as hard as it looks. If you have been reading this blog for a few years now, actually even months, you will know about my penchant for an over the top table setting. I love entertaining, and dressing up a table to a theme is one of my favourite past times, but like anything - it comes with a few rules. So take note!

An informal table setting needs just as much attention as a formal one does. From the placement of plates to using the correct stemware, just because it’s lunch doesn’t mean you can slack off! 

A few things I always check for before I even think about laying a setting....What colours am I using? Is there a theme running through the food that should be enhanced by the setting? What colour is the food? Will the food pop on the plate? What style of cutlery will I choose? If it’s antique silver - does it need a polish? (if so refer to this post on how to polish silver) But hang on, let’s chat a little about cutlery, shall we? What goes where? Because yes, that is confusing!

Here are the basic rules...Utensils are placed in the order of use; that is, from the outside in. A second rule, Forks go to the left of the plate, and knives and spoons go to the right. Also, there is no point setting the table with utensils you won't use - No soup; no soup spoon! Next time you are having a formal dinner party, or lunch, make sure you refer to this image (you can pin it to your Pinterest page or save it!) because even I forget which fork and knife are used for what now and then...

While we are at it, I’ll let you in on the secrets of knowing what are the perfect glasses to use. Now glasses can make or break a table if you are dining formally - get the real glasses down not the plastic. I am a believer in using everything you own, if you have grandmas collection of silver - bring it out and show it off! Don’t leave things to gather dust in the cupboard, and glass collections can do that. Rotate them in your cupboards so the least used styles can sit at the front for a while, this way they will most certainly be used.

Last but not least, let's talk about YOUR manners! Yes, there are a few to remember but really by the time you are eating at the grown up's table you should be well aware of acceptable table manners. Let's run over the basics...

  • ALWAYS chew with your mouth closed.
  • Keep your phone off the table and set to silent or vibrate. Don't answer texts or calls at the table.
  • Don’t use your utensils like a shovel or stab your food.
  • Don’t pick your teeth at the table.
  • Use your napkin! It's there for a reason.
  • Wait until you’re done chewing to sip or swallow a drink. (Choking is clearly an exception.)
  • Cut only one piece of food at a time.
  • Try not to slouch and don’t place your elbows on the table while eating (though it is okay to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses.)
  • Ask for something out of reach to be passed to you, don't lean across.
  • Don't just sit there silently, make an effort to take part in the dinner conversation.

So do you feel prepared and ready to tackle that table?




Credit: Table manner tips are inspired by The Etiquette Queen, Emily Post.